Al Davis and I were going to talk about a stadium deal. And it was his idea. Seriously. He brought it up last winter when he introduced Hue Jackson as the Raiders’ new head coach. During a media gaggle afterward, I asked Davis if he was open to sharing a new stadium with the 49ers in Santa Clara. He initially declined to comment. But as I turned to leave, he called me by name _ a rare event _ and gestured me over.
“I just can’t talk about it right now,” he said. “Give me a few weeks to look at some things, get some information and then I’ll have an answer for you.”
Following instructions, I called and asked for an appointment. I was told to be patient. Called again. And again. Nothing happened. I figured Davis just changed his mind about the interview. Now, I am guessing his deteriorating health played a part in the situation. We will never know exactly what he would have said or done.
But in the wake of Davis’ death, rumors are proliferating. Don’t believe most of them. It is no big scoop that the Raiders will eventually move to another stadium. Their lease at the O.co Coliseum in Oakland runs through 2013. And they’ve expressed a desire for a new facility. . . somewhere. Davis’ death has simply accelerated the speculation, creating an empty vessel that can be filled with conjecture and gossip.
It’s all a waste of time. At least for the next few months. The Raiders are now effectively controlled by Mark Davis, Al’s son. From everything I know, Mark Davis has given no deep thought to where the Raiders might play in 2014 or beyond. But there are only three logical possibilities. The Raiders could stay in Oakland. Or they could become co-tenants with the 49ers in their proposed Santa Clara project. Finally, the Raiders could move to Los Angeles, where two competing projects are fighting to bring back NFL football.
So. For each city, let’s separate fiction from fact and take a realistic stab at the odds of whether the Raiders might be playing there in, say, 2020.
Fiction: The Raiders are and always will be Oakland’s team. The team will work hard with city leaders to finance and build a fabulous new facility on the parking lot adjoining the O.co Coliseum.
Fact: People in Oakland seldom grasped the brutal truth: Al Davis didn’t really care where his team played. He just wanted to maximize revenue to improve his team. In all of his speechifying about the “greatness of the Raiders,” does anyone recall him ever glorifying or praising the city of Oakland _ or, for that matter, the city of Los Angeles when the team played there? We don’t know if Mark Davis has great affection for the East Bay or even if he wants to run the team day-to-day. He was raised in Northern California and is a Chico State graduate. But in business matters, including stadium matters, he will surely listen to Amy Trask, the Raiders’ CEO who earned Al Davis’ trust over the years.
Odds the Raiders are playing there in 2020: Pretty long. Make it 10 to 1. The city of Oakland is cash-strapped and has no money. Plus, keep in mind that the Raiders, throughout history, have never really driven a stadium project _ they have always waited for suitors to come calling with offers and then leveraged the best deal. That’s what took the team to L.A. and back to Oakland. Unless a third-party comes along to assemble and orchestrate a new East Bay stadium package, it is difficult to fathom that the Raiders will dwell in the 510 area code for the long-term.
Fiction: The Raiders would never think of playing in the same venue as the 49ers. It is against the laws of science and morality.
Fact: The Raiders and 49ers front offices have a good relationship. Trask and 49ers owner Jed York have held informal talks about a stadium marriage. It’s not unprecedented. In New Jersey, the Jets and Giants joined forces to construct a new facility _ although one league source says that it wouldn’t happen the same way in Santa Clara. The plan in New Jersey called for the two teams to invest equally in the stadium. The Raiders reportedly would prefer to be more of a tenant or renter. That makes sense, because the 49er project is already past the point where equity participation by the Raiders might even be possible.
Odds the Raiders are playing there in 2020: Better than you might imagine. Probably 5 to 1. Trask is known as a tough but fair negotiator. If Mark Davis decides he wants to retain control of the team rather than sell out his interests, he almost certainly will look at Santa Clara before looking south.
Fiction: The Southland is dying for NFL football, and riches await for the Raiders with two solid, slam-dunk stadium deals vying for their approval.
Fact: There are indeed two separate (and competing) proposals to bring the NFL back to Los Angeles. One is headed by the entertainment giant AEG and chairman Phil Anschutz. He wants to build a stadium in downtown L.A. next to the Staples Center. But he also wants to buy a share of any NFL team that moves there, at a deep discount. That was a deal-stopper when Anschutz quietly met with Al Davis last summer to first broach the idea. The other proposal involves a 600-acre tract of land in the City of Industry, about 20 miles east of L.A.’s downtown, controlled by developer Ed Roski. He is eager for football to be played on the site but has financing issues _ and as mentioned, the Raiders have never driven a stadium deal in that regard. Roski also wants to buy a piece of whatever team he lands, though at fair market value.
Odds the Raiders are playing there in 2020: Probably somewhere between the Oakland odds and Santa Clara odds. Let’s say 7 to 1. No matter what, a Los Angeles deal is complicated and definitely no sure thing. But the Raiders will certainly listen. Davis, who always enjoyed creating controversy, would love that people are already fulminating over the possibilities. Too bad he’s not still around to enjoy it.